The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/20/13 at 04:50 PM ET
I grew up as the son of a probation officer who worked for first the City of Detroit and then Wayne County and the State of Michigan in the baddest of the "bad old days" for the city, in the 70's, 80's and early 90's.
Back in the day, Detroit really was "the Murder City," and, governmentally speaking, Coleman Young's Detroit and Ed McNamara's Wayne County was where tax money went to die. The scale, breadth and pure brazenness with which literally billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars were redirected from projects supposedly designed to help the residents of a city where a thousand people were murdered every year and a county rife with poverty even during much better times...
The embezzling of funds and the, "We're not even going to pretend that we're lining the pockets of Bernard Kilpatrick, Mike Duggan, John Conyers, etc." moves were just staggering, even to a little kid whose dad would occasionally seethe and have to tell SOMEbody that he was just disgusted by the fact that everyone from his union to the citizens and media simply stood by as Young and McNamara winked, nodded and got rich.
Things didn't get much better under the Archer or Kilpatrick administrations (it's estimated that Kilpatrick's "charitable" foundations, contractual cronyism, using city collateral as a credit card and otherwise pocketing of general fund money = $2 billion of the $18 billion in city debt), and Bob Ficano's Wayne County's built upon the traditions of, "No business gets done unless my pals are 'winning' the no-bid contracts, are being paid consultant's/finder's fees and magically have charitable trusts set up in their names, funded by diverting tax revenues their way" business-as-usual stuff, but at least the damn feds are investigating what's going on, and at least the general public now knows the line between what's morally repugnant but legal governance and what's out-and-out illegal.
When a city's filing for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history--it's Chapter 9, i.e. "admit you're bankrupt and see what you can do to repay your creditors," not, "Chapter 11, everything must be liquidated!"--and when citizens have to wait 90 minutes for an ambulance, wait an hour for the cops to come if they're witnessing a violent crime, when they can't expect their streetlights to work, their kids to be able to walk to school safely or the City to give a shit if the abandoned house next door's become a crackhouse, obviously there's something very, very wrong...
And when any tax money whatsoever is being directed toward corporate interests instead of the well-being of the citizenry, even if there will be very real and very tangible benefits to the tunes of potential tens, hundreds of millions or even billions in net commerce, in-city investment, spending and taxes down the line, and even if that tax money is being diverted in a completely legal, transparent and on-going manner, seeing $12.8 million head toward a corporate interest is cringe-worthy stuff.
But the Downtown Development Authority's been diverting $12.8 million and more in property taxes Crain's Detroit Business's Bill Shea's tells us come from downtown property-holders like General Motors, Quicken Loans, Compuware and other corporate giants toward reinvestment downtown for an extended period of time now. This is nothing new.
I have moral compunctions and pangs of guilt about Mike Ilitch and Olympia Entertainment being the beneficiary of 30 years' worth of $12.8 million per year being used to partially subsidize the construction of their $650 million rink-and-economic-development project, but the Detroit Free Press's Tom Walsh's suggestion that this very publicly-vetted and voted-upon issue "stirs memories of Coleman Young" is offensive, even if the thrust of his article involves suggesting that, this time around, the "tangible benefits" are kosher with people who are striving to promote transparency and governmental responsibility to the electorate:
This Wednesday, the Michigan Strategic Fund board is expected to vote on issuing 30-year bonds to support the project. Board members are to hear further details in a conference call Monday.
There was some opposition in Lansing last December to tax-capture legislation that enabled the so-called “catalyst development project” in Detroit to move forward. But when the city’s Downtown Development Authority gave approval for the arena deal last month — a few days after Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr called for painful sacrifices across the city to resolve Detroit’s fiscal crisis — hardly a peep of protest was heard.
When I asked Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday if they felt awkward about backing a new downtown sports emporium while so many people in Detroit’s neighborhoods are struggling amid poor city services, they said no.
“It’s a public-private partnership that will lead to a number of construction jobs and more tax revenue,” Snyder said. “Let’s try to do as much as possible to grow the city.”
The new Ilitch project is much more than just a new hockey palace, said George Jackson, president of the DEGC. Moving the Wings out of Joe Louis Arena will open up attractive development opportunities along the Detroit River and create future expansion space for Cobo Center. And the location of the new arena north of the Fox Theatre will help connect the growth pockets in downtown and Midtown.
The so-called tax-increment-financing (TIF) law, which allows the capture of property taxes in downtown Detroit to be directed for use in job-creating economic development projects, dates back to the 1970s. Also at that time, events surrounding a Red Wings plan for a new hockey arena were hugely controversial.
When then-owner Bruce Norris announced a plan in 1977 to move the Wings to a site near the Pontiac Silverdome, then-mayor Coleman Young of Detroit orchestrated an 11th-hour coup to keep the Wings in Detroit by building Joe Louis Arena. In a subsequent civil suit against Norris for his change of heart — later settled for $3 million — Young was questioned in a deposition about the wisdom of public funding for sports venues.
Norris’ attorney asked Young whether he agreed with the Wings owner’s statement that an arena “is not a business that taxpayers should have to support.”
The salty mayor’s reply: “It’s propaganda, obviously. And very possibly part of the bargaining process. It’s a lot of bull----.”
It's always going to be a lot of bullshit, but at least in this day and age, Detroit's bankruptcy included, there's some accountability involved, and given that the area around the new rink's footprint is still so dangerous for white folks and black folks alike that I've had to tell someone who's taking in the Winter Classic and its preceding outdoor events to NOT ATTEMPT to explore the still-notorious Cass Corridor south of Wayne State and north of Foxtown for their safety's sake...
I'm comfortable sleeping at night knowing that the Ilitches plan on helping bring something of Western Civilization to an area of downtown Detroit that is nothing less than a poverty-and-crime-ridden urban wasteland separating Downtown from Mid-town, and as someone who grew up during the days where hundreds of millions of dollars would go missing with nary a shrug from the shoulders of the average people fitting the taxation bill because they knew that no one would ever, ever be held accountable for getting rich off of working, working poor and poor folks' income, property, sales, service etc. taxes...
I'm okay with the DDA giving that money to the Ilitches, because at least we know where it came from, where it's going and why. As the fiasco surrounding the unfinished and wildly over-budget addition to the Wayne County Jail illustrates, that's certainly not the case regarding a still staggeringly-high number of ongoing City and County business deals that are in the present tense.
My departed father would be unhappy if I did not end this little essay by suggesting that former Mayor Young and former Wayne County Executive McNamara and all their friends should continue to enjoy their tenure as rotting citizens of hell. I sure as *#$%@& hope that's where they ended up, because they earned their places there.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.